Jesus tells the disciples to return to Galilee. So they do. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and John, and two unnamed disciples. Unlike the rest, Peter has a problem. A self-inflicted wound. A telephone pole sticking out of his chest. And Jesus is about to expose and heal it.
Peter, opening his big mouth once again, announces to the group, “I’m going fishing.” They all pile in the boat with him. Notice what he’s doing. He’s returning to his former life. Fishing for fish. Why? His shame has convinced him that he’s disqualified himself for the life to which Jesus had called him. One and done and all that.
Jesus is having none of this. Just as Jesus crucified every assault the enemy could level at us, He is about to show Peter (and those around him… and us) that He wasn’t kidding when He said, “It is finished.” And that “finishing” includes shame, regret, and self-inflicted wounds.
So, they fish all night with no luck. Jesus, again having cloaked His divinity so they can’t recognize Him, stands on the beach and yells, “Children, have you any food?”1
First, He calls them “children.” Which they are. As expressed by the fact that they are standing in their former life, not living in the new life He has given them. The truth of the resurrection hasn’t yet set in. But it will. Pentecost is coming. Later in his life, John will write, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed [other translations say “lavished.” I like “lavished” better] on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are… Beloved, now we are children of God.”2 When he wrote that, I wonder if he was thinking of this interaction on the beach with the risen King?
Back on the beach, the question is a two-in-one. Yes, He’s asking them if they’ve caught anything. But He’s also asking them if they have any food for their souls. Bread of life kind of stuff. They corporately answer, “No.”
He laughs. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.” The implication is, “Do what you’re not doing.”
Not knowing who He is, they look at Him with squinted eyes. These guys fish for a living. They’re pros. They know what they’re doing. They mumble among themselves. “Who’s this guy think He is? Left or right side doesn’t matter.” Nevertheless, they cast the net, and wonder of wonders, they are unable to haul it in it’s so full of fish. A foretelling of what’s to come. Of what’s about to happen.
Sensing that something is amiss, John scratches his head and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Having stripped down for work, Peter is standing in his undergarments. Hair pulled back in a ponytail. Sweat dripping off him. Seeing the Lord, he puts on his outer garment — and takes a swan dive off the bow. Notice, while he is going forward, he is also covering up. Who does this remind you of? It reminds me of two people. The first is Adam in the garden. Ashamed, he and Eve sewed fig leaves to cover their nakedness. What drove them to do this? Shame. Contrast that with man number two, who was blind Bartimaeus at the gate in Jericho. When he came to Jesus, he threw aside his garment.3 Why? He had nothing to hide. No shame. Peter has everything to hide and he is draped in shame. Don’t think so? Okay, let me ask a pragmatic question — who covers up when he’s about to jump in the water?
Notice also what Peter doesn’t do. He doesn’t ask the Lord to tell him to come to Him so that he might walk on water. He doesn’t feel worthy. Shame is crushing his spirit. Peter is a mess. He swims to shore and walks up on the bank. In the meantime, his fishing buddies row to shore, dragging the filled-to-capacity net.
The Charcoal Fire
Onshore, they see Jesus cooking fish — over a charcoal fire. Uh-oh. Back up a week. This does not bode well for Peter:
Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself.4
Smoke rises from the beach. The smell of fish cooking. Peter sees the fire and freezes. Ice water trickles through his veins. That night returns. As does his denial. Peter’s heart shatters on the beach. From the mountain-top victory at Caesarea Philippi and Peter’s vocal proclamation to Jesus and the whole world, “You are the Christ,” he has bottomed out here. Sea level. The single greatest failure and betrayal of his life and Jesus is bringing him back to that moment. With a charcoal fire. Peter shakes his head.
Jesus speaks over His shoulder, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”5
Peter grabs the net and singlehandedly hauls it to shore where somebody counts out 153 large fish. Testament that since the time of Jesus, fishermen have kept track of their catch. Jesus tells everyone, “Come. Let’s have some breakfast.”
Jesus takes bread and fish and gives it to them. This was the third time Jesus had revealed Himself to them. Amazingly, Jesus lets them eat. They’re elated to see Him. All save one. They sit down alongside Jesus. Like old times. Only don’t think for a second that they’ve grown accustomed to this whole risen-from-the-dead thing. They haven’t. He appears. Walks through walls. Disguises Himself. Disappears. Speaks. Eats. They still don’t know what to make of all this. Don’t know what’ll happen if they get too close. All they know is that He’s alive; but as evidenced by the fact that they’re in the water in a boat, led by Peter, they still don’t know what to do with the rest of their individual and corporate lives. They are lacking direction — and none more so than the big, mouthy guy in the middle.
And in order to get some direction, their leader needs to get his head straight. So Jesus is about to straighten Peter’s way of thinking. And heal his heart.
One of the beautiful moments in this event for me is the tenderness with which Jesus loves on Peter. He had every right to shame him. Deride him. Poke him in the chest. But He doesn’t. Instead, I think He sits alongside and wraps an arm around his shoulder.
Peter is sitting by himself. His hair dangling down over his eyes so Jesus can’t see the whites. Peter is afraid to look at Him. Despite his braggadocious claims to the contrary, he did the very thing Jesus said he would do after promising not to. Sitting on the beach, Peter is a liar and a back-stabbing coward. Better than no one.
Which makes him a perfect disciple.
Jesus fills a plate and sits down. Shoulder to shoulder. He hands Peter the plate. Peter pushes the fish around. Afraid to look up. His heart is breaking. He wants to vomit. Jesus leans in. His face inches from Peter’s. “Peter…” Jesus glances at the men spread across the beach. “Do you love me more than these?”
The implication is clear. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter said he did.
What happened next? Imagine a man on a rescue mission. Saving prisoners. All of them. Once they are free, our hero hears the helicopter coming. He makes it to the evac zone. Sees the helicopter. Waves at the pilot who gives him a thumbs up and tells him “good job.” Then, just as the hero thinks he is about to climb aboard and be air-lifted to safety, the pilot pulls up on the stick and disappears while the enemy in the grass surrounds our hero and shoves their bayonets through his chest.
This is exactly what Peter did to Jesus.
He pulled up on the stick and watched as the enemy pierced His side. And before you or I get self-righteous, this is exactly what every one of us has done a thousand times over. To think otherwise is to hold a tainted view of your sin. Our sin is filthy rags. Used feminine products. None is righteous, no not one. So in this moment, when He’s speaking to Peter, He’s speaking to us.
Peter knows exactly what Jesus is referring to. It’s all he’s been thinking about. Can’t get it off his mind. Peter won’t look at him. He nods. “Yes, Lord.” He exhales. His chest is tight. A shallow inhale. “You know that I love you.”6
Peter sets down the plate and finally looks at Jesus. Tears pouring off his face. He is shattered at his own betrayal. His bottom lip is trembling. Tears trail his face and snot is pouring out his nose. In his spirit, he is begging his friend, his Lord, his King, to take him back. Give him another shot. End this misery. For the first time, Peter knows how truly unworthy he really is, and yet he is sitting at the feet of his King, asking for a return to the team, to the lineup, when he knows he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. “Please take me back. Please Lord, give me one more chance.”
Jesus will do one better. It’s why He’s here. He loves this stuff. Almost as much as He loves Peter.
Jesus presses His forehead to Peter’s. Friend to friend. Brother to brother. Jesus knows the ache of Peter’s heart. It’s why He built a charcoal fire. To take him back to the moment. But to heal the wound, He’s got to pick the scab. Only then can He dig out the shrapnel. Jesus holds Peter’s face in both His nail-pierced palms and speaks softly, “Feed My lambs.”
Somewhere in here, it strikes Peter that Jesus is restoring him. Bringing him back in. He’s no longer an outcast. He’s forgiven. Further, he’s been charged with tending and feeding sheep. That makes him a shepherd. Something he is now uniquely qualified to be since he understands lost sheep.
Jesus is not finished with him. Not by a long shot.
Peter’s desire — the singular cry of Peter’s heart — is to show Jesus that he loves Him. Jesus knows this. So, He looks into the future and gives Peter a glimpse. He wraps His arm around Peter and says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”7
Jesus is speaking of Peter’s death.
I’ve heard people interpret this as a seething indictment of Peter. As if Jesus is saying, “This is what you’ve got coming. And being the two-faced traitor that you are, it’s all you deserve.” I don’t see it that way. Peter has been broken. Jesus knows this. He is telling Peter He can see the future, and in the future, Peter does not and will not deny Him as he did before the Cross. He’ll finish the race. Keep the faith. He’ll die the same kind of death. And to Peter, this is the greatest news he could ever hear.
Peter weeps. That he is counted worthy to suffer for Christ and that Christ knows it. He wants nothing more.
Finally, Jesus, in perfect grace-filled, forgiving, pulling-for-us, lover-of-our-souls fashion, speaks to Peter the first words He ever spoke to him. And He does it after wrapping His arm around him and bringing him back into the fold. As if He’s saying, “Enough of this foolishness. Let’s get on with it. We have work to do. There’s stuff to be done.”
He leans in, and once again the ruach of God is breathing life into one of His own. Resurrecting another dead sinner. He could have said anything. The same voice that upholds all things by the word of His power and spoke ten trillion stars into the universe and calls each by name, is whispering the only two words Peter’s heart needs to hear. He makes eye contact, smiles, and whispers, “Follow Me.”
For the first time since that night, Peter drinks in a deep breath with no taint of smoke. He holds it. One second. Two. Then he lets it out slowly. Remember what he just did: chained as a slave in the prison of his making, having failed miserably he returned to his former life, but when he sees the Lord, he turns from his old life, dives in, and escapes from Egypt in the same way Israel did fifteen hundred years prior. One more deliverance through water.
For Peter, this is a do-over. The most beautiful do-over in the history of do-overs. In the ages to come, when pained parents and their broken children look up “do-over” in the dictionary, when shattered husbands and tortured wives stare across the pieces and look up “do-over” in the dictionary, when you or I rub our faces and stare back through the wreckage, they and we will see a picture of this moment. And Peter, to his great credit, takes it and never looks back. To me, this is what makes Peter great. He followed Him — again.
Remember, Jesus despises shame. And here He is driving a stake through its chest.
Peter is free. From himself. From his past. From his pain. And from his shame. Two simple words shattered its hold. Peter has been welcomed back in. He is now what he once tasted and has always wanted to be.
Peter is a child of God.
- John 21:5 NKJV
- 1 John 3:1–2 NASB
- Mark 10:50
- John 18:15–18 NASB
- John 21:10 NKJV
- Much has been made of Peter’s response, and for good reason. Jesus asks Peter if he agape loves Him. Agape is sacrificial love. It’s Jesus on the cross, me-for-you kind of love. Peter responds with, Yes Lord, you know that I love [phileo] You. Phileo love means to have affection toward. Or, a personal attachment. Like a favorite pair of shoes. Or maybe the chair you like to sit in while you flip channels. One comes from the Father. The other comes out of our humanness. They’re not even in the same stratosphere. Jesus responds with, Feed My lambs. This response strikes Peter as a bit odd. He scratches his head. Who feeds sheep? Jesus asks again. Agape. Peter responds again. With phileo. Jesus says a second time, Tend My sheep Peter is starting to get irritated. Who tends sheep? Jesus, knowing both what Peter needed and was capable of, asks a third time. Only this time, He uses the same word Peter has been using — phileo. It doesn’t quite have the punch of agape. Phileo is friendship. Affection. To share the same interests. No strings. Agape is a choice at a deeper level. Few choose it. Peter had once said he could agape, but when push came to shove, he couldn’t even phileo. Jesus has come down to his level. But truth is, Peter knows that when pressed at that charcoal fire more than a week ago, he didn’t even phileo He betrayed Him. Rejected Him.
- John 21:18 NKJV
Excerpted with permission from They Turned the World Upside Down by Charles Martin, copyright Charles Martin.
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The message of shame that the enemy whispers in our ears is relentless. It makes us cower and shrink, steals our strength, robs us of our birthright, undercuts our authority in the Holy Spirit. Which is why Jesus despises shame! He broke Peter’s and He longs to break yours as well. Bring it to Him today! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Devotionals Daily